A Washington ballot initiative, I-1431, which would give grandparents the legal right to seek visitation with their grandkids, has failed to get enough signatures. But that hasn't deterred supports who are now seeking signatures for an initiative to the state Legislature, I-877. Grandparents' rights groups decided to go the initiative route after spending more than a decade trying to get a bill through the Legislature.
Lori Paine, with the group Grandparents' Rights of Washington, says she got involved in the issue eight years ago. She says she had been taking care of her granddaughter three to four days a week when she and her daughter had a falling out.
“And her way of dealing with it was just to remove my granddaughter from my life," Paine said.
When Paine sought legal help to be able to continue to see her granddaughter, she was told nothing could be done. The reason is that, in 2000, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Washington law that allowed “third parties” to seek visitation rights. The court said the law was breathtakingly broad, allowing anyone from a neighbor to a babysitter to seek visitation rights.
At the time, the expectation was that the Washington Legislature would remedy the situation by passing a law addressing the issue.
But despite numerous attempts, nothing has passed. The debate has generally been between legislators who favor passing a law that meets constitutional requirements while still giving grandparents some rights and those who worry any law would unfairly restrict parental rights.
The Washington State Supreme Court has taken note of the inaction by the Legislature. Last week, in a decision the court ruled that a grandparent's petition for visitation couldn't be considered because there is "no statutory basis for third-party visitation under our laws."
Paine says she's frustrated that the debate has gone on for 17 years. She says, during this time, kids have grown up and sought out their grandparents on their own.
"They show up at their grandparents house and they say, 'Why didn't you try harder to see us? Why did you just disappear?' and this is what really haunts grandparents," Paine said.
Paine says the failure to get I-1431 on the ballot was due to a lack of resources. She says the campaign did not use paid signature gatherers. But, she says, the campaign was able to really build up its network of volunteers which could increase the chances of obtaining the 240,000 signatures needed for I-877 by the December 31 deadline.